American family values groups are tut-tutting about a television show in which couples seek to fix their marital problems by having sex in a soundproofed chamber and speaking candidly about their relationships.
"Sex Box," based on a British series of the same name, last week aired its third of nine planned episodes in the United States, where it is being broadcast by the WE tv cable channel, owned by AMC Networks.
Each week, the show sees three couples -- some gay, others straight -- discuss their relationship problems with a panel of sex therapists.
They go into a sealed, cube-like chamber from which the show derives its name and have sex, all while a studio audience is present. Afterward, they talk candidly about what happened.
"The theory behind the Sex Box is based on a revolutionary, scientifically proven concept," WE tv writes on its website.
"In the first 15 minutes after intimacy, the body is flooded with oxytocins and endorphins enabling people to really open up and reveal the root of their problems.
But the American Family Association, a traditional family values group, said "Sex Box" plumbs a "new low," and it urged advertisers to stay away from the "disgusting" show.
"Although the audience doesn't see the couples having sex," wrote Monica Cole, the executive director of OneMillionMoms.com, a division of the American Family Association, "the titillating premise that we're watching while real couples are engaging in an intimate act inside the box on stage is obviously the hook WE tv is using to lure viewers."
The sex box itself is soundproof and camera free and "allows couples to focus on one another and their needs with no outside distractions," WE tv said.
In the show, couples head into the sex box to consummate their passion -- or lack thereof.
When the couple leaves the box, wearing robes and silky pajamas, they sit down with the three sex-therapy experts and discuss what just transpired.
- One of the last taboos -
The Parents Television Council has joined in the criticism, launching a petition that has so far garnered at least 42,000 signatures and is aimed at putting "an end to a live sex show on basic cable."
Ironically, WE tv has linked to the petition from its own website.
"Real people having sex may be one of the few remaining taboos for jaded viewers," said June Deery, an associate professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's media and communication department in New York state.
"Presumably the therapeutic language is an attempt to make otherwise sleazy content seem more respectable and socially useful. It also gives participants an excuse for exhibiting themselves on TV," she told AFP.
Lawrence Sank, a psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland said "sex on demand is unequivocally not a good therapy."
"People have performance anxiety, so it's a bit unrealistic to ask couples to just perform on demand," he said, noting that he'd not seen the show.
But "to the extent that it's disinhibiting, it's a good thing for the viewers," he added. "People regarding sex as taboo is not the healthiest of things."
San Francisco psychologist Adam Eigner said the show, which he'd not seen, may be therapeutic for the participants and the audience if it makes people feel comfortable talking about sexuality.
"But if the approach is more about sex as a performance, which we often get in the media, it could have the opposite effect," he said.
In one episode, Jarric, 24, and his wife Taylor, 23, emerge from the sex box.
"We tried, she felt uncomfortable, she stopped," Jarric told a presenter.